18. December 2020 · Comments Off on Daring Colors in the Neighborhood · Categories: Uncategorized

The outlaying suburb where I live began being developed from open land on the far north-east sector of San Antonio in the late 1970s or early 1980s, as nearly as I can judge – a rolling tract of meadows, dotted with oak trees – many of which still survive, and cut through with a small creek feed by small natural seeps and springs. Most of the older houses are small tidy bungalows, although one segment of older houses in the development are a bit larger, and on lots considerably larger than the bare quarter acre or smaller. Few houses are rentals – most are lived in by owners; a good range of small young families, working professionals and retirees.

The development went through several different development companies, or so I have been told – the last of them was still filling in empty lots when I bought my house in 1995; there were still two model homes, and a construction trailer parked on a lot at the top of the hill for some years after that. Given the natural run of things, a lot of the older homes have been remodeled; owners have upgraded from the original contractor-grade fixtures, and a violent hailstorm in 2006 or so ensured that practically everyone got a new roof. A handful of houses now have the metal roofs, which cost about two-thirds more than the usual run of asphalt tile.

But the main thing that I have noticed lately are the colors that houses are painted. The series of development companies seem to have had a pattern book of house plans for a vaguely neo-Palladian/mid-Victorian stick-built one and two-story houses with various degrees of brick siding, ranging from all the way around in brick to just a few ornamental pillars on the corners. There seem to have been about twenty or thirty basic designs, and about the same number of colors of brick … and most homeowners had the exterior of their house painted in something that match the prevailing shade of the brick trim. Which came down to a neighborhood palette of colors exploring the whole exciting and vivid range of off-white, creamy-beige, yellowy-beige, beige-brown, pinky-brown, plain old brown-brown, and various shades of grey. A few non-conformists ventured daringly into houses painted in various shades of blue, from navy-blue to a cheery Caribbean light blue with white trim. But the iconoclasts – ah, yes; we iconoclasts broke away decisively from fifty-shades of neutral beige conformity! Our houses are painted green; shades of green ranging from light green, through olive, and into leaf-green! And they look very nice, and stand out, making easy for strangers to locate them, too, although I have my doubts about the taste of the family who went with brilliant Kelly green and yellow trim.  

A Short Story from Luna City #6

Radio Silence

Adeliza Gonzalez-Gonzales – who was never called anything but ‘Adi’ back then – was just thirteen when her older brother Manuel – Manolo to the family, Manny to his Anglo friends – came to Papi and Mama and said to them, “Papi, I want to see more of the world than Karnes County, an’ at the Navy recruiting office, they say that I’ll get a paycheck nice and regular, and I can work on ship engines that are bigger than this house. Besides, everyone says if America gets into a war, then they’ll be drafting men my age, an’ I don’t wanna be a soldier, marching around in the mud and all that. The Navy lives good, and they say that the food is great. Can I have your permission, Papi?”

Mama got all pinch-faced and weepy, because Manolo was her favorite and oldest child. Papi sighed and looked solemn and grave, saying, “Manolo – mi hijo – if this is what you truly want, I will sign the papers.” To Mama, he added, “Do not cry, Estella, can you see your boy as a soldier, following orders?”

“But he still must follow orders – the navy is as military as the army,” Adeliza piped up, and Manolo jeered and replied, “Nothing like the same at all, Adi!”

            So, Manolo packed a few things in a cheap cardboard suitcase, and climbed aboard the bus to the city, and in time over the next three years the postman delivered hastily-scrawled letters and postcards – letters with odd postmarks and postcards of splendidly colored landscapes and exotic places. Manolo came home on leave once, in the summer, splendid in his white uniform and round white cap, carrying a heavy duffel-bag over his shoulder with apparent ease, seeming to have expanded from a boy into a man. Manolo was greatly excited – his ship was being transferred from the west coast to the Hawaiian Islands. He brought presents for the family, a breath of fresh air and tales of travels in exotic far lands. He brought his little sister a scarf of silk gauze, printed with a map of the Hawaiian Islands and pineapples and exotic flowers. Adi put it in the chip-carved box where she kept her handkerchiefs and her most precious possessions. From that time on, a tinted picture-portrait of Manolo in his uniform sat in pride of place on the cabinet radio and Mama kept a candle burning before it always, a candle dedicated to Saint Peter, who had the particular care of sailors.

            A winter Sunday morning, when the breeze from the north promised chilly nights, and the frost in the shade had not yet melted in the sunshine; Papa came to fetch Mama and Adi and the other children after morning Mass. Adi sensed that there was something wrong, even before Papi spoke. There was a particular grim expression on Papi’s face, a hush among the congregation scattering to their houses after Mass, a silence broken only by the tinny sound of the radio in Papi’s car.

            “The Japanese have dropped bombs on the harbor, and our bases in Hawaii,” Papi said. “The war has begun, whether we wish it or no.”

            “What of Manolo?” Mama demanded, her hands to her mouth in shock and horror. “Where is he? Is he safe?”

            “I have no idea,” Papi replied, his eyes shadowed with fear. Adi said nothing. She was sixteen now, almost grown. She met Papi’s gaze with a silent nod of understanding.

            Two days later a card came in the mail, from Manolo – on which Mama fell on with tears of joy. “You see!” she exclaimed. “He is safe – this letter is from him! All will be well, you will see!”

            “Mama, the letter is postmarked the week before last,” Adi said, to Mama’s unheeding ears. A week later, a parcel bound in brown paper arrived, addressed in Manolo’s handwriting.

“Christmas presents!” Mama exclaimed, “From Manolo, of course. You see, he is safe – it is only rumors that he is missing, that telegram was mistaken.”

That Christmas and many Christmases afterwards were not happy occasions for Adi’s family – they were not happy until Adi married and had children of her own, to bury the memory of that first wartime Christmas.

            “Yes, Mama,” Adi agreed with a heavy heart and a show of cheer, for the telegraph office messenger boy had brought that small envelope at mid-December. The telegram from the war office was followed in short order by Father Bertram, then the priest at St. Margaret and St. Anthony, who had seen the messenger boy’s bicycle pass the priest’s residence while Father Bertram was pruning the pyracantha hedge around the tiny garden. Everyone knew that telegrams meant bad news, now that the war had well and truly come to them, but Father Bertram’s intended consolation and comfort were misplaced, for Mama was not distressed in the least.

“In the government telegram, it says only that he is missing,” Mama insisted, over and over again. “Missing – not dead. In my heart, I know that Manolo is safe.” In the end, Father Bertram was the most sorely grieved of them all. He departed shaking his head and saying to Adi,

            “Your poor dear mother – I can only think that the enormity of your loss has affected the balance of her mind.” Father Bertram’s Spanish was very bad, afflicted as he was with a very strong accent, reflecting many years as a missionary in the Argentine, so Adi was not entirely certain of what Father Bertram meant. She only smiled uncertainly. No, Mama had merely decided that Manolo was safe, and doing what he needed to be doing for the war effort, and would not hear any word to the contrary. Never mind that Manolo’s ship – the great battleship Arizona, whose engines Manolo had tended lovingly – had blown up with a roar that could have been heard half-way across the Pacific. There were pictures of the battleship, half-capsized in billowing clouds of black smoke in the weekly English newsmagazine. Poof! Like that, a candle blown out in a single breath and a thousand and a half lives snuffed out with it. It made Adi’s heart ache to think of this, and she wept, but not where Mama could see.

            She did not even cry when Cousin Nando, and Cousin Jesus Gonzales and a half-dozen of the other teenage cousins came to Adi after Mass on Christmas Day, 1941, announcing that they had all sworn a blood-oath to avenge Manolo. Cousin Jesus had already had his orders to report to the Army, but the other boys were intent on volunteering for the Army, the Navy, the Marines even.

            “So … we meant to ask you as Manny’ sister – if you would give us all a token,” Jesus Gonzales affirmed solemnly. “We pledge to avenge him by killing a dozen Japs each. Our solemnest promise, Adi!”

            “Don’t be ridiculous!” Adi snorted. Yes, of course she was angry at the Japanese – for killing her gentle brother Manolo, who only lived to get grease all over his hands and work on his engines until they were tuned and vibrated like the beating of a human heart.  And they had attacked without warning, without a declaration of war, which to Adi’s understanding, was sneaky and unfair. But Jesus Gonzales, who was dark-eyed, lean, and handsome like a movie star, looked at her soulfully and begged again, until she relented.

            “Give me a moment.”

            She went into her parent’s house – the house in the oldest part of town, into her room, and took out the chip-carved box with her most precious small things in it, considering a sacrifice of the map of the Hawaiian Islands and the pictures of a tower and exotic flowers, and blue waves crashing on a white-sand shore, the scarf which had been a gift from Manolo. No, not that. She took instead another of her handkerchiefs, a pretty white cotton gauze handkerchief, printed with little blue flowers and green leaves, and the sewing shears from Mama’s sewing basket.

            Out on the front porch, she met the cousins – dark-eyed romantic Jesus, hot-tempered Nando, and the others. “My token, that which you have asked for,” Adi said, as she crunched the scissor blades through the crisp-starched handkerchief; producing a dozen smaller squares, and struggled for something to say as she put them into the hands of that boy or this, thinking that this was absurdly like something from the old legends, or the movies on a flickering silver screen. She struggled for the right words. “Not in hate … Manolo didn’t hate, for he didn’t want to be remembered that way. But for the right, for justice and freedom, and for our people. For Manolo …” she lost the thread of her thoughts entirely, for Jesus and Nando reverently kissed the scraps of handkerchief as they were handed to them, and so did the other boys.

            “Write to me?” Asked Jesus, at the last. “Promise, Adi!”

            They all went off, in the following weeks, all with their small cheap suitcases packed, taking the weekly bus that was the only public transport then from Luna City to the wider world, and to the duty and colors which called them. Cousin Nando became a pilot, Jesus a cook with the Army, the others to service mundane or heroic as chance and temperament let them. Adi Gonzales was certain that every one of them took that little square of cotton handkerchief, printed with blue flowers.

Jesus Gonzales certainly did, for it was one of those small things which she found at the end in sorting out his things, after half a century of faithful marriage; a cotton scrap, discolored with age, so fragile that it practically fell apart in her hand as she took it out from his wallet.  

But Mama … no, Mama never took it to heart that Manolo was gone from the world of the living. Against all evidence to the contrary – the telegram from the government, that Manolo never came home again, she insisted that he was alive and well, doing his patriotic duty for the war, still working in the engine-room of the battleship Arizona. Mama was first to the telephone – the telephone that was almost the first in Luna City in the household of Gonzales or Gonzalez, certain every time that it was Manolo calling, long-distance. The war dragged on, and even when it ended – and the next began – Mama smilingly assured Adi and the family, their friends that Manolo was fine and happy in his work.  For she had seen him frequently – or his likeness, in pictures of sailors on one ship or another, on shore leave, or in the newsreels show in the theater in Karnesville. Mama did not allow the star on the flag which hung in the front window of their house to change from white to gold, and there was a wrapped gift under the tree for Manolo for many Christmas mornings to come. Now and again, Mama said that she had talked to someone who had seen Manolo. In her later years, Mama even insisted that she had spoken with Manolo, on the telephone. Even in her final illness, she had opened her eyes one afternoon, and said to Adi – perfectly clear –

“There is nothing to worry about, mi hija. Manolo has left insurance, to take care of us all.”

Some years after both Mama and Papi passed away, Adi’s first cousin Roman and his wife celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. Roman and Conchita went to the Arizona Memorial, and surreptitiously left a bouquet of fragrant white plumeria flowers floating on the water – water still streaked with oil leaking from Manolo’s ship, iridescent streaks which the locals said were the tears of the ship, crying for her lost crew. Roman and Conchita   also went to the Punchbowl Cemetery – they brought back pictures. Adi is certain that Manolo is buried there, among the unknowns from the Arizona. After all this time, it hardly matters, really. But she likes to think of him, the strong young sailor in his white uniform, with his hands and fingernails from which the oil and grime of working engines would never quite be cleaned. She likes to think of him, walking among the palm trees and the plumeria and frangipani scenting the tropic air, the blue water and white foam, crashing on a sugar-white strand.   

Now and again, Adeliza Gonzales-Gonzalez, who has not been called ‘Adi’ in years thinks she has seen Manolo, in a magazine picture accompanying some story to do with the Navy, or a sailor half-glimpsed in a television newscast. She is very careful not to say anything about this, of course.

01. December 2020 · Comments Off on Another Snippet from the Current W-I-P… · Categories: Uncategorized

(Which at this rate will be out in the new year. Real life has intervened. My daughter is pregnant, and it’s one of those high-risk things.)

Vennie Stoneman is on leave in Paris, late 1944, and is about to meet the love of her life…

On her second day in Paris – the City of Light! – Vennie conceded glumly that perhaps late November was not seeing Paris at it’s very best. The trees in the Bois de Boulogne, the smaller city parks, the Champ de Mars, the gardens at Versailles and all along the city avenues were bare, the famous Louvre Museum was empty of all the splendid paintings and relics that had once been there, the sky was mostly grey and dripped rain on a regular basis. Four hard years of German occupation had emptied shops, markets, cafes and ateliers of most of the goods and edibles which had made Paris the cynosure of the world when it came to fashion, food and general culture. But still – Paris!

Vennie had read about all those famous places since she was able to read words of more than a single syllable. If the trees were bare, and the shops, museums and ateliers all but empty, the monuments and buildings were still there and every bit as awe-inspiring as they had been in her imagination, even if the paintings in the Louvre were still hidden away safe in the countryside.

“Oh, Christ – another grey stone monument!” Ginger Floyd groaned. Their jeep was halted in a broad plaza in front of the magnificent – if slightly time-mutilated twin towers and façade of Note Dame de Paris, the grand and ancient cathedral of Paris. “Don’t you ever get tired of moldy old buildings, Vennie?”

“Not this one,” Vennie replied. “It’s Notre Dame the most famous church in all of Paris – and I want to see the inside, even if they haven’t put back the rose windows. They’re famous in themselves, you know.”

“Another church,” Bill Allison remarked, with a particularly dour expression. “After Sacred Heart…”

“Sacre-Coeur,” Major Ledet corrected, almost automatically.

“We’ve also been to St. Denis,” Bill Allison continued, “Where the kings of France are planted for all time until Judgement Day. And St. Chapelle, Napoleon’s Tomb, and all those blasted museums with nothing in them because they were taken away to hide from the Nazis. Just agree with me; admire the outside for five minutes, and then lets move on to another objective. I’m a Presbyterian – all this Catholic idolatry gives me hives.”

“I want to see the inside,” Vennie repeated stubbornly. “This might be the only chance in my life that I will have to see Paris and I want to make the most of it, even if there is nothing much inside.”

“Oh, very well,” Major Ledet agreed, and set the jeep in gear. “We’ll come back for you at four o-clock, right at this place. Will that suit you, Lieutenant?”

“Perfectly,” Vennie replied, and let Bill Allison hand her down from the jeep, as she and Ginger wore their formal skirt uniforms, and it was so awkward, having to be so lady-like in the middle of a war zone, scrambling up and down from jeeps and trucks and airplanes in a narrow skirt and stockings that must be kept from being snagged and laddered. Or at least doing that scrambling in what had been a war zone, not too many weeks previously.

Vennie settled the strap of her handbag on her shoulder, straightened the cap on her head at the proper angle – and yes, she knew the crude name for that narrow and easily-folded flight cap. There was but a small scattering of people in the wide paved square before the storied towers and intaglio-carved façade of Notre Dame on this drear and grey afternoon. She marched into that chill and stone-damp smelling space … and then halted, marveling at the solid weight of the stone, the regular pillars along a triple gallery which went marching along the vista of a magnificent nave, the airy vaults overhead … she went to the font just inside the entryway, and dipped her fingers into it and made the gesture of crossing herself for courtesy. This was the custom, as she knew very well. So many of the ranch workers were devout and Catholic – a good few nurses she had trained with as well – and Padre Paul was a good and responsible shepherd. There was a rack of candles nearby, most of them flaring smokily in the intermittent icy draft from the doors. She fished a few francs out of her purse, put them in the donation box and lit a fresh candle from the jar of wooden spills next to it, silently saying a brief prayer before she walked farther into the soaring interior.

And it was every bit as glorious as she had imagined – monumental pillars and galleries, pale daylight sifting in between them, as if they were stone trees in a mighty and regularly coppiced forest. Vennie breathed in the scent of ancient incense, of age and history and stone. Padre Paul had visited St. Pauls’ in Rome, shortly after the day of liberation, and spoke most movingly of how the immense space dwarfed mere humans in the presence of the ineffable divine – this was how he must have felt, dwarfed by the power of belief in the savior of all mankind, a divine first made flesh and blood in Palestine two millennia ago … and then that belief memorialized by those passionate believers, making their faith manifest in stone, glass and paint.

Halfway up that grand nave, Vennie stepped into one of the ranks of pews – which were relatively scratch things, to her way of thinking. Bare, flimsy, relatively insubstantial, in comparison to the mighty forest of stone, rising all about her. There was an American soldier sitting in one of them, in the rank ahead of where she chose to sit and contemplate the divine, and appreciate the artistic labor which had built this place, centuries before. Vennie sat, moving quietly as she had learned as a nurse. This was a private moment – for her, as it was for that lone soldier. A sacred place, and a private place, all in one. She quietly drank in the peace and history; there was nothing like this in Deming, where the church of her childhood was a simple frame building – like a child building with sticks, a private den in the weeds, next to this.

She sat and thought about all of that; of her time in Madame Marsala’s house in Albania, and of Johnny the Englishman, who was really Tony the actor. Of the soldiers that she tended in those interminable flights – and of how many more there would be, once the war in Europe was done. The focus of the war would move against Japan, once Nazi Germany was ground into dust – and into dust they would be. Vennie was already certain of that. But, oh – the human cost of that, paid in the blood of soldiers, blood that puddled on the floor of hospitals like that one in Arzew, on the night that she and her handful of fellow nurses came forward to serve.

Vennie didn’t want to think of that – how much more in blood, how many more dying soldiers? She wrenched her mind from that, and standing up, looked over the shoulder of the American in the pew-row ahead. Now she noted, in mild surprise, that he had a notebook in hand propped on his knee. And he was making a sketch in charcoal pencil – a view of the apse and high altar, with the watery sunshine sifting in.

“I like that,” she said, unprompted. It was a bit presumptive of her, because he was enlisted, with a zebra-array of stripes on his sleeve and she – according to Army regs – was officer-class. But the soldier looked over his shoulder and smiled, without any constraint. He had a very nice smile, Vennie thought – straight white teeth and narrow, sensitive lips. A burly man with dark hair slightly too long for Army regs, about thirty years in age, and wearing heavy-rimmed glasses which lent him a somewhat professorial air.

“Thanks … I’m a shit artist, in comparison to the greats. But I get by. Master Sergeant Burt Vexler – and y0u, Ell- Tee?”

“Venetia Stoneman – but my friends all call me Vennie. I’m on leave with some friends from my unit. Are you also on leave, Sergeant Vexler?”

“Burt – just call me Burt,” he replied. “I’m on the job, actually. A research job. It’s one of those odd sorts of Army specialties…”

“In Notre Dame?” Vennie raised a slightly skeptical eyebrow. “Oh, don’t tell me you work for our version of the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”

He chuckled, richly amused. “No, not one of those sneaky intelligence types. I was recruited to a special unit … we track down looted art, stolen by the Nazis, secure it safely and ensure that those items are returned to the proper owners. Those buggers had the stickiest fingers you can imagine. Nothing too hot or too heavy, as one of our English pals puts it. They boosted truckloads of art – paintings, sculpture, historic relics – anything you can imagine, and shipped it off to the Reich. They say that Hitler was a frustrated artist … you know, everyone might have been better off if he had been accepted at art school. But that’s by-the-by. Were you a nurse before the war, Vennie?”

“Yes, I was,” she came around the end of the pews and sat next to him. It was easier talking that way. “I liked it, very much. I was a private duty nurse for a very nice invalid lady. A friend of mine from nursing school joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she told me several times that a war was coming, and I ought to join as well. When my invalid lady died, I thought that my friend might be right, and I might as well. I could read the newspapers, you know. How did you come to be in the Army – the draft, I suppose.”

“Not quite,” Burt grinned. He set aside his glasses, folding them carefully and fitting them into his uniform tunic pocket. Now Vennie saw that his eyes were a light blue; oddly enough, of that shade that the old folks in Deming always said denoted a stone-cold killer. “I also was talked into it by a friend – my old college advisor. I was teaching art history at this terribly refined old ivy-covered college. My eyesight is bad enough that I was rated mostly unfit for the draft … and I’d be the most ham-fisted and near-sighted infantryman that any army in history has ever seen. But my advisor was terribly persuasive, and I wanted to contribute. So here I am … enjoying yet another visit to fabled Paris, the city of light. This time at Army expense, instead of the trust fund.”

“Were you here before?” Vennie asked, frankly envious. Only the very wealthiest of the Richter and Becker cousins had traveled much beyond their home ranches, much less repeatedly to Europe. “Even before the war?”

“A good few times,” Burt coughed, almost apologetically. “Although the very first time, I was only six. My mother’s honeymoon with her fourth and final husband. She insisted on bringing me. My stepfather was a peach – he’s the one that she stuck with, finally.”

“Your holiday suppers with all the family must have been interesting,” Vennie remarked, without any malice. She was fascinated, almost in spite of herself, and Burt grinned again.

23. October 2020 · Comments Off on The Princess Who Went Her Own Way · Categories: Uncategorized

She wasn’t actually a princess, through it is the usual understanding that the sons and daughters of a ruling monarch are princes and princesses. But they did things differently in Russia; up until the Russian Revolution, the legitimate offspring of the Tsar were grand dukes or grand duchesses, born to the purple and far outranking mere princes and princesses, who seem to have been, in the Russian scheme of things, merely mid-ranked nobility.

This grand duchess was named Olga; the youngest of five children of Tsar Alexander III and his wife, the Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, originally Princess Dagmar, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. (Her older sister Alix was married to Albert, Prince of Wales.) Born in June, 1882, the infant Olga was not in the most robust of health. Her father as the Tsar of all Russians, and her mother being a veritable whirlwind when it came to duties social and administrative, Olga and her next-oldest brother Michael were raised day to day by governesses and tutors, as was customary for the upper classes. They had a comfortable, but rather Spartan lifestyle at Gatchina, the country palace of the Romanovs. She and her brother slept on plain cots, ate porridge for breakfast, bathed in cold water, rarely saw other children and had daily lessons – and private time for walks in the nearby woods with their formidable father. Olga excelled at painting and sketching – and in fact, for the remainder of her life, most always had a paintbrush in her hand, and as an adult earned a modest living from her watercolors. (a selection of her watercolors is here)

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Letter from Peg to Vennie, dated 14 October 1943, Postmarked Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Returned unopened and marked – “Returned to sender, from APO NY” Addressee 1Lt. V. Stoneman, USA Nurse Corps Missing in Action 3 Nov ‘43

Dear Vennie:

I was so happy to hear that you managed to visit your family after successfully completing your special nursing course. I don’t suppose that you can tell me anything more about it, so I will not even ask. I presume that since the front has moved to Sicily and the Italian mainland that you are there, as before. I hope that you are as safe as can be, under the circumstances. This bloody war has been going on for four years now – honestly, dear Cuz, I can just barely remember peace, or what seemed something like peace at the time. Food unrationed, plenty of beef (!) and plenty of petrol, and the only uniforms that one saw commonly, unless one visited Fort Sam Houston were those on policemen and bus drivers! What was it like then, not to hear an air raid siren without your heart in your throat, or having to know where the closest air raid shelter was, or carry a gas mask, or even be afraid to turn on the radio of a morning or open the newspaper … I’ll write about more cheerful news now – about Tom and Olivia. Tom will begin school in January, and Edith and I have been sorting out what he will need to have by way of proper school clothes. Fortunately, she and Stanley have friends whose sons are at “Churchie” in various grades, or forms as they call them here. They have made outgrown school coats and trousers available to us, so all that we need to was to save coupons for white shirts and for shoes and socks. Tom is terribly excited about going to school. He is quite a gregarious little boy, and completely fearless. Any books that you have sent to us for his Christmas prezzy will be gratefully received and devoured … probably even before Christmas dinner is served. Did you realize that our mid-summer in Australia comes during November? Never a chance of a white Christmas here, even less of a chance than there was in the Texas Hill Country. Edith and I are scrimping and saving our food coupons, as she says that we should have a real plum pudding, and if we must sacrifice the oldest of her chickens to the cause of Christmas dinner … well, I am in favor of trading with one of her friends who has geese. It seems quite against the spirit of Christmas to eat one of our chickens, especially since the children have named them all. According to Mr. Charles Dickens, it was goose that was the centerpiece of a rare old English Christmas dinner anyway! I really cannot contemplate the horror of telling Tom and Olivia that we have just eaten Bette, Vivian, Margaret or Hedy! It would ruin Christmas entirely, since the children are so fond of all of our hens; their tears would practically flood the house, even though it is on tall pilings! I’ll try and talk Edith out of this, Perhaps we can procure an enormous Spam loaf and carve it into the shape of a chicken or a goose.

How curious; on the ranch, we all knew that some of the yearlings would be slaughtered for beef. Daddy often gave them names like “Sir Loin” or “Lord Hamburger” or “Baron Roast”, just to keep it all firmly in our minds what they were intended to be. It’s just not the same with Edith’s chickens, I suspect.

Anyway, I have been reading in my wedding-present cookbook, which has practically no milage on it, since Mr. Song was the cook at Longcot Plantation and brooked no interference in his way of doing things, and Edith is the same, regarding her kitchen. It’s almost an exercise in nostalgia – again, for that time which seems nearly out of memory. Whole roasts of beef, pork, chicken and unlimited quantities of butter, sugar, white flour, cream, eggs … it’s an exercise in hunger nostalgia. The thing is that Australia could and would provide all these good things in quantities which would make a horn of plenty look niggardly … it’s just that most of these good things must go off to supply England. There’s a poster which makes much of this; our food production must go marching dutifully off to England. Just as Australian soldiers must do … because obligation to Empire and all that.  Honestly, every time I sit down to a skimpy meal of rationed foodstuffs and think of that poster, my blood fairly boils. Americans fought a revolution over all that; sometimes I wonder if Australians have the nerve to do the same. But not during this war – which everyone and everything reminds me that we ‘are all in this together.’

Well, some of us are in it more than others.

Your devoted Cuz


Postcard from Peg to Mr. Charles Stoneman, c/o postmaster Deming New Mexico, dated 10 December 1943, postmarked Brisbane, Queensland.

Dear Uncle Charlie:

My latest latter to Vennie has been returned by the postman, with a notation that she is ‘missing in action.’ What has happened? Have you had that awful telegram delivered from the War Department? Please let me know soonest.

Love, Peggy Becker Morehouse